Story & Focus
Based in the Wise Woman Tradition, the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference has a special flavor. Together we deepen our relationship to the natural world as we cultivate traditional herbal knowledge, earth based healing, and women’s wisdom. In a spirit of celebration, we honor our own abilities, beauty, and strengths as women. We celebrate our connection with spirit, and the bonds among women, in a vibrant, joyful, and loving community.
The Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference was inspired by the thriving herbal conferences for women in the Northeast, Northwest, and California, which were started in the 1990's. Corinna Wood, mother of Red Moon Herbs, realized that the Southeast, too, would be eager for this kind of gathering. From our first annual event in 2005, we quickly discovered that the community was more than ready, that this conference is filling a hunger for the Wise Woman Ways in this region. The conference now has a heart and soul of its own. For many, it has become an annual event, a tradition in education, inspiration, and sisterhood. Our herbal conference community grows stronger and reaches further each year.
At the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference, dozens of inspiring teachers offer over 60 classes on a wide range of topics including plant identification, using herbs, traditional medicine, health and healing, nutrition, sacred sexuality, women's wisdom, and more. Conference classes, intensives, special events and celebrations are inclusive of women at every level of expertise, from the beginning herbalist to advanced practitioners. This much loved annual women’s conference quickly grew to over a thousand women since its inception with 200 women. The women who gather--of various backgrounds, faiths, colors, shapes, stripes, and sizes--are part of a web of wise women dedicated to a new paradigm of health and wholeness for themselves and the earth.
What is the focus of the conference?
The Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference is a weekend for women to learn, connect, and deepen into the Wise Woman Tradition through herbal education, empowerment, and community. The Conference includes aspects on herbs, healing, nourishing foods, and sexuality. Our approach to herbs and healing is steeped in the Wise Woman Tradition with a strong emphasis on the folk herbal tradition and use of local plants. That being said, we have healers from many paths teach at our conference.
What do you mean by the “Wise Woman Tradition”?
The Wise Woman Tradition embraces the Earth, local plants, deep nourishment and self-love. It is a lens by which we can recognize our interconnectedness and wholeness of body and spirit. There’s a deep resonance that many women experience—a cellular memory of a way of life and a belief system that embraces a spiral that includes both light and dark, just as the natural cycles of our world constantly move through day and night, from dark moon to full moon, from winter to summer, from youth to old age and death.
The Wise Woman Tradition is practical and intensely personal, calling us to re-integrate ourselves in our own bodies and to reconnect with the Earth. We honor our natural cycles -- our ebbs and flows -- and turn our attention away from “fixing” ourselves, and towards nourishing ourselves, physically, emotionally and spiritually, such that our bodies respond by moving towards optimal health. In the Wise Woman Tradition, we understand our bodies as sacred and we trust that as a source of inner guidance.
In the Wise Woman Tradition, we celebrate women both old and young, women of all colors and cultures, the many expressions of womanhood. We recognize that when we connect with our natural abilities, women are competent and capable of anything!
The Wise Woman path is a process of remembering much of what we already know -- including ancestral memories of using wild plants around us, as food and medicine. We may recall it as “folk wisdom.” We may have heard our elders speak of rituals and remedies that were passed on to them from their foremothers.
As internationally-renowned herbalist Susun Weed describes, “The Wise Woman Tradition is the oldest tradition of healing known on our planet, yet one that is rarely identified, rarely written or talked about. A woman-centered tradition of self love, respectful of the earth and all her creatures, the Wise Woman Tradition tells us that compassion, simple ritual, and common herbs heal the whole person and maintain health/wholeness/holiness.”
The Wise Woman Tradition is at the heart of the offerings and events at the Southeast Wise Women’s conference.
What is “folk herbalism”?
By definition, herbalism is a traditional or folk practice based on the use of plants. By using the word "folk" we are emphasizing the plants and practices that have been used by our grandmothers from every culture for generations upon generations. We love using kitchen remedies and simple herbs that grow around us and finding ways to incorporate them in our daily lives.
We love seeing women get excited about relating to the plants directly and making their own medicines. We love learning what the plants have to teach us…they were here before us, after all. We are also excited by modern scientific and clinical findings and include them in our program as well, although we tend to stay away from teachings based on herbal constituents alone, or a "popping pills" approach to health. Our teachers usually offer a blend of several approaches in their workshops.
Why a focus on local plants?
In the Wise Woman Tradition, herbal medicine is a place where the lines between food and medicine blur. Our food becomes our medicine, and our medicine becomes our food. As we learn to identify and harvest edible wild plants at our doorsteps, we can naturally bring wild foods into our day-to-day lives to support optimum health, Drinking herbal infusions on a regular basis is another excellent way to recieve the medicinal qualities of the plants in a food-like form rich in minerals, chlorophyll, and other nutrients. So, in general, we prefer to use the common, abundant plants that grow nearby rather than turning to rare, endangered, and faraway herbs with similar actions. When we incorporate the plants in our area into our lives, we have the opportunity to eat and make medicine from herbs that are vibrant, fresh, and potent--and are thriving within the very ecosystem where we live.
Why do you focus on diversity?
We’ve found that focusing on inclusivity and racial equity allow us all to have access to the most rich and robust body of healing knowledge available--from a diversity of cultural and ethnic perspectives. In today's world which is still very much impacted by racism, we believe that racial equality, is an important part of health and wholeness for all of us.
The conference focuses on women’s health, including empowerment and self love (which includes overcoming internalized oppression). All women are affected by dynamics of racial oppression. However, for women of color, day-to-day experiences of systemic racism, micro-aggressions, and internalized oppression add up to health risk factors. Therefore, we consider racial dynamics an important component of women’s health to address, individually and communally. By acknowledging the impact racism can have on women’s health, we are actively working to provide resources to counter its negative effects.
As the conference has grown, our "Unity Village" has become the heart of the conference, which includes a gathering place for women of color as well as opportunities for all women to build bridges of understanding. We see Unity Village as an ongoing experiment and exploration. As organizers, teachers, and participants, we have been growing and learning together through our experiences and dialogue with one another--honoring our differences as well as our commonalities. Over the last five years of open sharing around racial and ethnic issues, we have been pleased to see the participant representation from various ethnic and racial groups increase significantly.
Another racial equity outreach strategy is that in our scholarship selection process, we recognize racial income disparity connected to oppressions of the past and present, and therefore prioritize women of color who are in financial need--as well as those who are physically challenged and the elderly.
Is the conference appropriate for medical professionals?
While the Conference may not suit all medical professionals, it is a well loved event for many holistic nurses and other medical professionals who wish to deepen their understanding of herbs and women’s health. In fact, 25% of the conference participants are medical professionals. Medical professionals benefit from the conference by the augmentation of their knowledge of herbs, women’s health, alternative modalities, integrative approaches, and self care techniques. This in turn can enhance their professional lives, by the integration of these holistic skills and attitudes into the care they give to others. For those interested, we offer CE's for Nurses.
The conference is not opposed to allopathic medicine. All healing practices have their strengths and weaknesses, their time and place in each person’s life. Although the focus of this event is on folk medicine, we certainly appreciate the resources available through hospitals, surgery, and pharmaceuticals. We honor the right of all women to choose the modalities that seem best suited for their own bodies and situations. We also value many aspects of natural medicine such as yoga, meditation, massage, acupuncture and more.
What's the focus on nutrition about?
Especially as women, we’ve been given confusing and contradictory food advice from all directions for most of our lives. We believe that regular dieting and self-denial--that we have so often been enculturated to adopt--can be harmful for the body, mind, and soul. We believe that healthy foods are one of the key foundation building blocks for health. We feel that low fat diets can be dangerous for women, and that healthy fats (such as organic butter and coconut oil) are essential for the smooth functioning of the hormonal system. We aim to give health and nutrition information that is based in fact, tradition, and wisdom. We recommend a wide range of whole foods through our choice of speakers and topics, as well as our offering of the Nourishing Foods Meal Tickets, and our endorsement of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
How do sexuality classes fit into a women's herbal conference?
For most of us sexuality has been a closeted, confusing, sometimes shameful subject. We offer the opportunity to explore topics on sexuality because they are seldom offered elsewhere and we believe it’s an important part of a healthy life. Being empowered women includes enjoying our bodies. Which means loving ourselves, in our various shapes and sizes, feeding our bodies nourishing foods, nurturing our bodies with comfort and pleasure, and providing for all of our bodies' needs in safe and beautiful ways. If you're interested in learning more, you'll find class offerings within these various arenas, among the herbal and other women's hearlth topics.
Are you into feminism?
What do you mean by “women's empowerment”?
We’ve grown up in a culture rife with sexism, racism, ageism, heterosexism, and classism. Girls are, from birth, treated differently then boys. Violence against against girls and women is a global atrocity.
Most of us grow up in male dominated institutions, households and religions, where men were in charge. The very important work of our mothers and grandmothers who labor in positions of caregiving and child rearing as well as in nurturing professions is sorely undervalued today. In many professional positions, women make a smaller percentage of what men make for the same work. Often by the time we are teens, we have been conditioned to stop playing sports, having an opinion, getting dirty, making speeches, acting strong. We often struggle to accept and love our bodies, wishing they looked more like the airbrushed images in fashion magazines. Often when we act powerfully, we are criticized.
Girls and women are natural leaders, are naturally at home in their bodies, and are naturally connected to each other through mutual respect, play, and friendship. Women are strong, tough, in control of their own lives. Women are loving, brilliant, brave, and creative. When we speak of empowerment we speak of a process to reclaim these truths for ourselves and to help each other remember!
Thanks to Re-evaluation Counseling Community for the foundation of this text
Why is it a women-only event, with no men allowed?
The idea of women-only gatherings may initially feel unfamiliar or scary. Please know that we respect all people equally. We treasure the relationships we have with beloved men and boys in our lives -- our sons, brothers, husbands, partners, friends, fathers and grandfathers.
And we also deeply value this annual opportunity to be immersed in a large group of all women. We find that women-only settings tend to offer a special tone and energy. As we gather together as women, we connect and celebrate our commonalities as well as our differences. In this safe container, we cultivate self-love and dissolve barriers of competition between women.
This women-only setting also allows us to focus on issues that are important to us, free from potential shame or misunderstanding. Women share many common experiences, from menarchy to menopause. These all-women classes and experiences offer a special opportunity to share and gather wisdom about health and wellness for our physical and emotional well being. In this context, we are naturally find ourselves deepening our relationships with each other as well as our own abilities, strengths, and power.
Men have had opportunities for public all-male groups for centuries, from the Knights of Columbus and the Masons, to men's country and sports clubs of all kinds. Some of this is changing today, yet men still desire and seek out the comfort, camaraderie, relaxation, and escape that being with other men provides. We ask the same--a place where we can be ourselves together for a weekend. In our times, we're also delighted to see some of the men around us getting involved with progressive men's groups such as the global Mankind Project, offering peer support and mentorship for the "accountable, and compassionate male role models that our communities need." And the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, who identify as "pro-feminist, gay-affirmative, anti-racist, enhancing men's lives."
We do our best to minimize contact during the weekend with male staff and residents on the grounds. When dropping off participants, we ask men to limit their presence to the parking lot so that there is a sense of "safe space" or "container" created during the weekend. This allows the participants to sink more deeply into their experience knowing that they will be held in this women-only atmosphere. We mean no disrespect at all by this and hope instead that men see this as an opportunity to serve the women in their lives and communities by sending us good will, trusting our process, and respecting our needs and desires for sacred time together.
The photo above was sent in by a participant, taken in a candid moment, of herself sharing about her weekend experience with her husband.